The SNP will not take ‘No’ for an answer – how could it?

It is likely one of the extra curious features of nationalism, Scottish and in any other case, that setbacks are by no means accepted at face worth. Confronted with those that deny their nation, the nationalist’s intuition is to retreat inward, searching for themselves and “the nation” as soon as extra.

For a real nationalist is aware of not of defeat – solely of the resurgence to observe.

Consider Nigel Farage, who made seven unsuccessful bids for election to the Home of Commons seven occasions earlier than securing an in-out EU referendum.

Consider the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum, misplaced on a technicality, however culminating within the formation of the extraordinarily efficient “Marketing campaign for a Scottish Meeting” a yr later. 


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And consider the failed 2014 Scottish independence referendum, which led on to SNP success on the 2015 basic election. 

Historical past inform us that the SNP is ideologically predisposed to look past their supreme snubbing on the hand of Britain’s highest court docket on Wednesday. The social gathering will exploit the cleavage created by the Court docket’s choice to turn out to be extra diligent in making the independence case.

So if unionists hope that this ruling will pave the way in which for Scotland’s political panorama to be remodeled, they are going to be disillusioned.

The constitutional battle will solely get extra intense.

A supreme snubbing

Wednesday at the very least started with certainty. The supreme court docket dominated that the Scottish parliament can not legislate to carry a second independence referendum with out the UK authorities’s approval.

The ruling got here sooner than anticipated, however the consequence itself was of no shock. 

The SNP, who contributed to the court docket proceedings as a “third social gathering” (formally the dispute was begun by the Scottish authorities, not the SNP) argued that as a result of Scotland was “a nation” it had a “proper to self-determination” beneath worldwide regulation.

President of the Supreme Court docket Lord Reed rubbished this argument within the measured, mild-mannered method solely a authorized skilled may. He dominated that, regardless of the politics, Scotland has no judicial proper to self-determination beneath worldwide regulation – which, he mentioned, solely applies to “former colonies” or locations which might be beneath “overseas army occupation”. 

“That isn’t the place in Scotland”, he mentioned.

The Court docket additionally didn’t agree with the argument, superior by Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain on behalf of the Scottish authorities, that such a referendum would merely be “advisory”. 

President Lord Reed continued: “A lawfully held referendum would have necessary political penalties regarding the union and the UK parliament”. 

The response 

Nicola Sturgeon handed judgement on the ruling in a formidably combative, if swiftly organised, press convention simply hours after Lord Reed’s assertion. 

She mentioned that this was a “exhausting capsule for any supporter of independence, and absolutely certainly for any supporter of democracy, to swallow”. The primary minister additionally confirmed the menace she made earlier than the Court docket case: if the social gathering can not maintain an official referendum on 19 October 2023, the SNP would use the subsequent basic election as a “de facto” referendum on independence as an alternative. 

However there may very well be no time for defeatism – and by Wednesday midday the SNP was already faithfully reasserting the calls for of the Scottish folks. 

At prime ministers questions, at least seven questions got here from the SNP benches. 

There have been the standard three from Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster chief and up to date survivor of an inside social gathering coup, who claimed that, within the wake of the Court docket case: “The very concept that the UK is a voluntary union of countries is now lifeless and buried”.

“The very level of democracy on this union is now at stake”, Blackford boomed.

Allan Dorrans MP then summed up the SNP’s in depth contribution to parliamentary enterprise at the moment by stating: Scotland is “shackled and imprisoned in [an] involuntary and unequal union”.

Not content material with taking over many of the PMQs order paper, Ian Blackford was additionally granted an pressing query, which he used to accuse Scottish secretary Alister Jack of “denying democracy”.

Clearly, the seeds of nationalist revival are already being planted by the SNP.

The federal government line

However confronted with this unforgiving nat-attack, the federal government couldn’t muster a solution to the important thing query: how ought to Scotland finest point out its help for independence if Holyrood can not legislate for a referendum?

Sunak’s response at PMQs was telling. “We respect the clear and definitive ruling of the Supreme Court docket of the UK. … Now’s the time for politicians to work collectively and that’s what this Authorities will do”, the prime minister mentioned.

Nonetheless, to the shock of the SNP benches, Sunak resisted the invitation to brag. There was no point out of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, which earlier prime ministers have lovingly known as a “as soon as in a technology” vote.

It was an try to take the warmth out of the controversy. Definitely, Sunak’s measured response somewhat jarred with the SNP’s confrontational strategy. 

Labour’s path in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon dedication to show the subsequent basic election, anticipated in 2024, right into a “de facto” referendum on independence invitations a morass of procedural and political problems.

This plan would take away the “vote for a powerful voice for Scotland” pitch which had proved so efficient for the SNP at earlier elections. Certainly, on Sturgeon’s phrases, a vote for the SNP would imply a vote for independence, nothing much less. 

And if Sturgeon fails to get 50% of the vote in 2024, the unionist events can fairly simply argue that Sturgeon had her second referendum, on her phrases, and misplaced it.

Crucially for Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar, this indy-obsessiveness affords a path ahead for Scottish Labour. 

Talking within the post-PMQs press briefing, Keir Starmer’s spokesperson reaffirmed the social gathering’s positioning concerning the SNP: “Our place may be very clear. We don’t help there being a referendum, [and] we’re not going to be doing offers with the SNP going into the election in any type or popping out of the election in any type”.

This robust unionist positioning will profit the social gathering considerably come 2024.

The Scottish Conservative social gathering, which so successfully promoted itself because the “social gathering of the Union” beneath Ruth Davidson, has didn’t seize the second beneath the stop-start management of Douglas Ross. Sensing a possibility, Labour now needs to fashion itself as the primary selection for unionist voters. 

Vital right here shall be Gordon Brown’s much-anticipated constitutional evaluate, which Keir Starmer’s spokesperson confirmed we may see “inside weeks”. 

The proposals are set to incorporate additional devolution proposals for Scotland and a restyled new higher chamber. This new second chamber could even be within the type of a “senate of the areas”, a plan Andy Burnham has prominently championed.

If this seems to be the case, the Labour Social gathering threatens not simply to turn out to be a principled pro-Union social gathering – however a principled pro-Union social gathering with concepts. 

Certainly, that Starmer patronised a constitutional evaluate in any respect – however its potential constitutional suggestions – already goes some technique to combatting the SNP’s argument that the Union is rigid and coercive. 

Answering the “Scottish query”

Nothing is more likely to be solved within the close to future on the subject of Scottish politics and Sturgeon was proper to declare on Wednesday that the present deadlock is “unsustainable”.

However the issue now for the SNP is that their response to the impasse has been to double down on the rhetoric and whip up the grassroots. This isn’t a sustainable technique for a celebration which has no assured technique of supply. 

And may the SNP’s slip into the tropes of romantic nationalism threaten their very own popularity for competent governance? This – and extra – is but to be seen.